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How to Prepare for College Applications

The summer breeze in your hair, the scent of sunscreen and ocean water, a cozy bonfire to light up a warm night—you might be looking forward to all of these things and more on your summer vacation. Maybe you’ll be hopping on a plane to an exciting new destination, or maybe your adventures will take you closer to home. 

No matter what your summer adventures have in store for you, though, if you’re a rising senior, there might be one adventure in your future that feels a little less exciting … and a lot more intimidating. The approach of senior year means college application season is right around the corner. Most applications aren’t open yet, but you might be wondering about how you can get a head start on this process, so that senior year feels less like a race against the clock and more like a victory lap. 

Whether you prioritize one or all of the steps below, the options provided in this article are meant to help you do exactly that: use your summer to prepare you for a successful college application process. 

Start researching your college list

With no homework demanding your attention, summer is a great time to channel your research skills into learning about all the amazing places you might call home during your undergraduate career! Get a sense for all the things that are most important to you in a college—major, size, location, cost, and more. Then, look for the schools that come the closest to meeting your criteria.

Visit college campuses

As you find schools that really excite you, it can be helpful to actually set foot on campus and see what it’s like to be a student there. Register for a tour, talk to students and faculty when they’re available, and attend any summer programs you’re eligible for. Spending some time at a school is a great way to determine if it is a good fit for you. 

Get organized

Once you’ve narrowed down your college list, find a way to organize your application activities. Whether you use a spreadsheet, a planner, or a combination of different tools, the important thing is that you have one central location to keep track of everything pertaining to your college application process. You will want to stay apprised of college application and scholarship and financial aid application deadlines and the status of required essays and letters of recommendation—anything and everything needed for a successful application season. While you’re at it, find out who your admission counselor is at each of your institutions of interest. Don’t be shy about reaching out with any questions, and make sure to include their name and contact information in your personal database of college application information. 

Familiarize yourself with commonly requested application materials

Most, if not all, institutions of interest will have application components in common. Start planning how you will complete and submit applications now, so that you don’t have to scramble in the fall. For instance, you can start learning how to submit an official transcript. In many cases, an emailed transcript is not considered official—so it’s important to know what each university of interest to you will accept, and how its admission team wants to receive your transcript.

Start exploring financial aid and scholarship options

Applying for need-based or merit-based financial aid can be a complicated process, so it’s a good idea to start during the summer, when you have fewer upcoming deadlines and more time to figure things out at your own pace. Start poking around the FAFSA and CSS Profile websites. What do their application processes entail? What will you need? Though neither of these programs’ applications will open until the fall, it’s good to familiarize yourself with them now. Additionally, you can begin scoping out scholarships offered by your institutions of interest, as well as scholarships offered by other organizations. Know when applications open so that you can complete them right away.

Study for standardized tests

If you plan to apply to a college or university where the SAT or ACT is required, or even if you’re hoping to submit a score to a test-optional institution, now is the time to prepare for your test(s) if you haven’t already taken them, or wish to retake them to improve your score. Grab a test-prep book or find a trusted tutor, and get ready to crush those test questions.

Clean up your social media

While not every institution’s admissions staff will take the time to look at your social media accounts, some might, and it’s important to be aware of the image you’re presenting online. Is there anything you’ve posted that you wouldn’t want a university representative to see? You don’t need to remove every trace of yourself on social media, or tone down your personality or creativity—just make sure that you’d be happy with your future university or employer staff members seeing what’s there. 

Applying to colleges can be stressful, but it’s exciting too. You’re about to go on a journey to discover where you will call home during the next big chapter of your life. And you are in charge of that journey. Remember to take time to daydream about your future, and breathe in your life now as you come to the close of your high school career and look ahead with optimism toward your bright future.